A virtual home tour may be a mainstay in today’s real estate market, but it wasn’t just a few years ago, according to Dina Goldentayer, a realtor and director of sales at Douglas Elliman in Miami. “Viewing a house virtually, and even more so in the luxury market, didn’t happen much before the pandemic because buyers wouldn’t feel comfortable making such a large purchase over FaceTime,” she says. “Now it has become standard operating procedure.”
At least one statistic indicates the increase Goldentayer speaks to The National Association of Realtors saw a jump in reliance on technology to market homes. This includes the use of virtual tours, which went from 17% before March 2020 to 27% in 2022.
Still, buying a home online—even with a detailed virtual tour—doesn’t always show you everything you need to know about the property before you make an offer. “There’s a whole new set of questions that buyers need to be aware of,” notes Goldentayer.
Below, top real estate agents offer tips on what to ask when looking to buy a house virtually. Don’t sign on the proverbial dotted line until you read this.
1. Skip automatic trips
Many virtual home tours are pre-filmed. Skip these recorded versions and ask the listing agent to lead a FaceTime tour instead. “Automatic showings are designed to portray the property at its best and cost a lot of money to create,” warns Jack Pearson, a real estate agent with Compass in the Hamptons. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you see the full picture of the house,” Pearson says nothing can replace the value of a live tour, where an agent walks you through each room and you can stop them to ask questions about a particular feature or request an extra look at the master bedroom or another room.
2. Ask about the noise level
Do planes regularly fly overhead? Do the neighbors have a dog that barks incessantly? Are you near a place where public events are held? And if you are looking at an apartment, are you near the resident lounge or under the gym or swimming pool? Goldentayer says it’s important to ask about a property’s noise levels. “It may be your dream home, but excessive noise can make it a no-go,” she says. “It’s a factor that you wouldn’t know about unless you ask the real estate agent detailed questions.”
Pearson likes to gauge how much noise a property sees by asking the estate agent to conduct a silent tour. “Basically, you have the agent walk you through the house without talking, so you have the opportunity to listen for noise,” he says.
3. Test the water pressure
The water pressure in showers and sinks in a future home is a priority for many buyers. “People are obsessed with the pressure of the water, especially when it comes to taking a shower,” says Goldentayer. “You can’t turn on the faucet to find out when you’re seeing virtual, so it’s important to have it tested by an inspector.” Do this mini test: Run the faucet, then flush the toilet, and see if the water pressure changes. She also recommends checking for plumbing issues during the inspection period, which usually happens within the first week of your contract – a time frame when your deposit is usually still refundable.
4. Check the cupboard and storage spaces
Virtual tours tend to skip locker spaces, according to Pearson. “You might see the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, but you don’t see any guest bedroom closets, kitchen cabinets and closets and storage areas,” he says. “Having the real estate agent walk you through these spaces is imperative.” After all, it would be an unpleasant surprise to move in and find that you have nowhere to store bulky winter clothes in the summer, or that you have to build extra shelves in the kitchen for all the pots, appliances and crockery . Alternatively, you may find that you have extra closets that can easily be converted into a laundry closet or even a mud room.
5. Use technological systems
The home could have sleek features such as electronic window treatments, advanced surround sound, or an automated projector. But these eye candy perks become expensive burdens if they don’t work or you can’t figure out how to use them. A standard inspection almost never tests such facilities, but Goldentayer recommends hiring an audiovisual specialist to perform the test for you. “It’s a separation inspection, but one that’s worth it,” she says.
6. Don’t forget the exterior
Pearson says most virtual tours focus strictly on a property’s interior, to the exclusion of the house’s exterior, barely looking at the front and backyard. Make sure the listing agent thoroughly shows you all the outdoor spaces so you understand their layout and how they might fit into your lifestyle. For example, if the property has a swimming pool, you should know how close it is to the house, to the neighboring property, and whether you have space to add an outdoor kitchen. You should have an idea of whether you want low-maintenance landscaping or need to add privacy fencing. Have the agent zoom in on the facade so you can see what state it’s in. “You want to look at each edge a few times to get the big picture,” says Pearson.